How to Build An Online Community

{Breaking my hiatus for this topic close to my heart ...}

On Saturday I taught a brand-new Dean Street Seminar on Instagram with Intention.

On Tuesday we kicked off the next round of #StyleMeApril.

I'm currently coaching 40 entrepreneurs through The Mentorship Coterie.

And next month {sneak peek!} I'm bringing back my group style class, Style & Styleability for the first time in 2014. 


These are four of the absolute favorite things I do as a part of Dean Street Society and they all have one thing in common: they're about community.

It's a topic I've been thinking about lately both because it's an part of my success, and so elusive to learn how to create. So when Rachel of The Yogipreneur asked me to be a part of the Heart Your Community Blog Tour and talk about how to build community, it was an easy heckyes to dive into this topic.

So whether you're a fellow entrepreneur or a Dean Street betty who wants a peek behind the scenes, read on!

 

From the very beginning Dean Street Society has been about community right down to the name. I knew I didn't want my business to be about me, my style, but making the typically exclusive topic of fashion, inclusive, and create an environment where everyone feels welcome and empowered.

I started off  working only with clients one-on-one, which I loved -- both in style and then as I got inquiries, entrepreneurship. Then in both cases I started working with small groups through my Style & Styleability class, and The Mentorship Coterie. Both include a Facebook group and live video calls and suddenly I was creating not just a relationship between me and my clients, but for my clients amongst themselves. I had no idea how much watching their engagement with one another with warm my heart! Now not only is Dean Street Society about learning from me, but being welcomed into a community of supportive peers who "get it", and are with you on taking your lives to the next level, whether through your style or business or both.

While I have Facebook and Google Hangouts to thank for building community amongst my clients, I have Instagram to think for building community amongst my followers at large. Two years ago I started the #StyleMeMarch Instagram Challenge on a whim. I had an idea at brunch, wrote down prompts with a friend and posted it the next day. My followers loved it, when I skip a month they ask me to bring it back, and every month I receive more comments about how powerful this little idea is in their lives, mornings, creativity and confidence all month long.

However, I believe in unabashedly showing the legit behind-the-scenes in my business so I'd like to data-nerdy on you here. Below are the stats for my first month of the challenge, and the recent one two years later:



March 2012: Instagram Followers: 181 // # of Calendar Shares: 5 // # of Photos Posted: 315

March 2014: Instagram Followers: 6K // # of Calendar Shares: 172 // # of Photos Posted: 5,643



My following and # of calendar shares have both grown my 34x, my participation photos posted by 18x. What that means is that when I launched this community {not even realizing that's what I was doing at the time, mind you} it didn't make waves. It wasn't large or fancy. It was small and intimate. Both have their upsides.

Those bettys who participated in the first #StyleMeMarch genuinely developed friendships. There was a small group participating, so they truly got to know one another, with a few becoming pen pals and even meeting up when they travelled to one another's countries -- myself included, as nine months later I met #StyleMe betty, Anna, who'd become a dear friend, in person when I lived in London for a spell.

I believe it was their relationships, their foundation of encouraging words, that set the tone for this to grow into a large community that nonetheless has maintained the "kindest tribe on the interwebs" reputation that's my ultimate goal. You can read our Dean St Community Credo here for more on why we're a "negativity free zone".

And now as we're growing, community begets community and it's of course become a blessing in bringing me new traffic, clients and revenue for my business.

In closing, I think community is a large part of what makes Dean Street Society special. It was both an intentional priority from the beginning, and also a serendipity I stumbled upon along the way.

Community is primarily free. Instagram, Facebook, Google Hangouts -- all the platforms I use are free, and those elements of my business, even for the paid products, are more of a bonus with the true cake being my teaching and the community being the extra frosting. Yet somehow that frosting is also our core, our backbone.

 

So if you too are on the journey of entrepreneurship my advice for you would be thus:

1) Know the type of community you want to create and lead by example. Start early and always keep your vision on the kinds of people you want to be surrounded by. Like attracts like.

2) Add community elements wherever possible. Test out new forms of conversation and engagement. I didn't know what gems I was starting when I tried any of the above, but I played around and made wonderful discoveries.

3) Be patient. Review my #StyleMe analytics above. Community takes time. You're growing something and that can't be rushed. Think of where you want to be in three years, not three months.

4) Use your words. I post my Community Credo, I have guidelines for how we interact inside the Style & Styleability Treehouse of Trust {even the name indicates my heart} and each month I post #StyleMe I remind people that we're here to encourage, not critique. While I acknowledge I can't be entirely in control, I intentionally articulate whenever possible to let bettys new and old know what this tribe is all about.

 

The world can never have too much community, goodness, empathy, friendship and conversation. Thanks in advance for adding to that. {wink}

P.S. Remember that you are welcome to join in this community, m'dear! Hop on Honor Society where you'll get the news of all the newest offerings. Plus, I've got two one-hour Dean St Seminars as my FREE gift to make you feel welcome. Join us inside now!

P.P.S. And speaking of community, check out what all the other Heart Your Blog Tour gals have to say about this topic including Anna of Curvy Yoga yesterday and Amy of The Path to Bliss tomorrow!

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